Sunday, October 30, 2011

7 Fun Narrative Ideas

I spent the whole day yesterday getting my planning ready to see my Year 6 English students up to Christmas and to get them ready for their Entrance Exams coming up in January.

Last term, I felt we really got stuck into our narrative writing, but by the end of term I think we were a bit bogged down with drafting and redrafting, typing, editing and the like.  It had become a bit of a chore and whilst this is an important part of writing, I have decided that the focus for this half term is going to be on perfecting the 'parts' of writing, so that hopefully my students will be able to put these small parts together successfully when it comes to the pressure of an exam.

I went to a Professional Learning day with Jen McVeity last year and her program Seven Steps to Writing Success has really changed the way I teach writing.  As she explained it, as teachers, we are really great at saying to kids "Just go and write a story!" but, particularly for those lower attainers in the class, this is like saying "Just go and climb Mt Everest!" or "Just get in the car and you'll be able to drive!"

We wouldn't expect children to be able to climb Everest without learning all the details about mountain exploration and we wouldn't expect them to be able to drive if they don't know how to combine the different skills needed, so why do we throw them into the deep end when it comes to writing?

In short, students need to be explicitly taught the smaller 'parts' of writing a story in order to be able to do it successfully.

So, in the seven weeks leading up to Christmas, here are some of the activities (alongside many of those 'parts' activities suggested by Jen in her course above - love the Story Graph, 5 Day Sizzling Starts and Tightening Tension ideas!)  that I'll be trying to inspire my students to be able to create pieces of writing that really leap off the page at the examiners come January:

  • Using the 'Writing Prompts' from Adam Maxwell's Fiction Lounge to give students the first line of their story.  Some of these are a bit too mature for 11+ writers, but just keep refreshing and you'll come up with gold >
  • Here are 9 Dramatised Clips specifically designed as story starters.  I'm going to be using these to give students practise at planning a story in the 5 minutes allowed and then choose their favourite idea to write in a 35 minute session  >
  • What happens when a witch and a tiger meet on the street?  They have a conversation of course!  I really love this idea for getting the children thinking about dialogue in their writing.  Combining this with reading lots of examples of how real authors use speech in their writing I'm really hoping will be a big hit >
  • I've got the preview clips of The Titanic and Forest Gump all lined up to show the children during our sessions on flashbacks.  Being able to see a visual is a great way of helping children imagine how they could use a flashback in their story! Hearing Forest talk is a great conversation starter about which tense to use too.
  • Using Ian McEwan's The Daydreamer, students will become the 'Author's Apprentice' by investigating the style of McEwan in this collection of short stories and then helping him add to his book by writing another story in his style.
  • I'll be giving each student a photograph of the events of a 'crime' (eg. a bank robbery) to have a look at, then taking them away - things like a photo of the street beforehand with the street sign, the getaway car, the men running into the bank, etc.  The students won't know why they are looking at these photos until we start the lesson and I tell them that a 'crime' has been committed and they are all witnesses.  The police want them to write a recount of what they saw and what they can remember from the photos.  After discussing the different things they witnesses, students will have a story (completely fabricated by them!) to write from their own varied perspectives.
  • Visit > to introduce children to the Mystery of Harris Burdick - this book is gold when it comes to stimulating creative writing!  Plus, it is just a really cool book and earns you definite 'street cred' with the kids. We'll be reading the introduction and then children will be choosing one of the pictures to write their own story and making decisions about where the given line will fit in the story too.  
"The fifth one ended up in France."

 I rather suspect this is going to be a very busy term in my Year 6 English class, combining all of the above with spelling, comprehension, punctuation, grammar, practise papers and class literacy sessions (where we are reading 'Journey to the River Sea), but I'm hoping that this varied and creative approach to teaching narrative will produce some excellent results - and excite the kids about English at the same time!
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